LINCOLN — Connie Yori’s not knocking on sorority house doors anymore.
Coming off a Sweet 16 NCAA tournament appearance last year and the opening of a new arena two weeks ago, the Nebraska women’s basketball coach announced the top recruiting class of her NU career Monday, a five-player class long on athleticism and matched with hype. ESPN ranks it No. 16 for now, with the possibility the ranking could go up.
The previous best-ranked class for Yori — current juniors Hailie Sample, Tear’a Laudermill, Brandi Jeffrey and Emily Cady — was ranked 24th by ESPN.
“We are excited about the potential of this recruiting class, and we hope all five players have outstanding senior seasons in high school this year,” Yori said. “We have built quite a bit of momentum in recruiting the past few years and this class is part of it.”
The centerpiece of the class is fast-moving, 5-foot-7 point guard Natalie Romeo. The Martinez, Calif., star is a four- or five-star prospect depending on the recruiting service, ranked as high as 21st. She’s an end-to-end guard for the powerhouse Cal Stars AAU team. At Carondelet High School — the all-girls school paired with all-boys school De La Salle, a high school football power — Romeo averaged 21.4 points, 6.7 assists and 6.3 steals per game.
“We absolutely love her toughness and passing ability. Natalie is a floor leader who scores, sets others up to score and brings energy and intensity every time she steps on the court,” Yori said in a statement. “She likes to push the tempo and she is an aggressive defender. She is a really good fit for our offense and our style of play.”
NU beat Stanford and Oklahoma State for 6-2 Alma (Kan.) forward Kaylee Page. Ranked as a five-star prospect and the No. 42 overall player by ESPN, Page averaged 20.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a junior, hitting 57 3-pointers.
“She is a very active and aggressive offensive player,” Yori said. “She will be a great fit for our system and our style of play because of her versatility.”
Chandler Smith, a 6-foot combo guard, is a four-star prospect ranked No. 62 by ESPN. She averaged 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 4.2 steals for Brewster (Wash.) High School last year. Smith plays in the same AAU system as former Husker point guard Lindsey Moore did, and Yori said Smith may be a better offensive player at this stage than Moore.
“Chandler is a great passer, both in transition and half court,” Yori said. “She has very good handles and can shoot. She is a good 3-point shooter and can hit the dribble jumper.”
Romeo’s AAU teammate, 6-foot-2 Oakland, Calif., forward Darrien Washington, will be the back-to-the-basket post player in NU’s class. She averaged 16.4 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.9 blocks for Skyline High School. Yori said Washington had “size and mobility” and “good instincts.”
Jasmine Cincore, a three-star, 5-8 guard, averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Briarcrest Christian High School just outside of Memphis, Tenn. Yori said Cincore’s aggressive, defensive game is similar to that of former Husker Dominique Kelley.
Assuming no roster turnover, Nebraska will be at its limit next year for scholarship players at 15. Yori has rarely carried the full allotment. The Huskers have 11 scholarship players now and will lose only senior Jordan Hooper to graduation.
NU already has two in-state commits for 2015: Fremont forward Jessica Shepard, a 6-4 forward whom ESPN rates as the No. 5 overall prospect; and Lincoln Pius X guard Maddie Simon. The Huskers are also recruiting Kaylee Page’s younger sister, Lanie, who is the No. 19 overall prospect for 2015.